Auf Wiedersehen Koeln.

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Admiring the Koelner Dom from across the Rhine.

I’m about head off to the Hauptbahnhof to board the train that would take me to my  next destination. I have mixed feelings about leaving Cologne – somehow, I feel like I’m leaving an old friend behind. It’s hard to explain – maybe because Cologne and I have some sort of history which is why, unlike when I left the other places I went to recently, I now feel that “parting is such sweet sorrow”. 

Cologne will always have a special place in my heart because it is the very first European city I have ever had the privilege of visiting. I first set foot on Cologne way back in 2004 (for work) and, if I’m not mistaken, I went back the following year (still for work). Even though I’ve been here twice, I never really had the chance to explore the city because I would be attending to my responsibilities. I saw the Koelner Dom but, with it towering over everything, you’d have to be blind to miss it. I’ve always wanted to come back here and now, after almost a decade, I’ve finally returned.

There’s so much more to Cologne than the massive Gothic Cathedral. I only found out during this brief pit stop that the city was built over ancient Roman ruins, and these have been discovered quite serendipitously. For example, while digging away to build a new carpark, they accidentally discover walls of ancient roman villas, roman roads, mosaic floors … it’s just amazing what this city is hiding beneath its folds. I never knew that there’s so much more to see, apart from the painfully obvious.

Anyhu … here are some of the secrets Cologne shared with me in the last 3 days:

I saw a bit more though – a friend drove me to Zons and Solingen on my 2nd day, and I think I have a few more pictures of the inside of the Cathedral (I can spend a whole week inside that church and never tire of admiring it). I’ll share those on another day. Right now, I need to wrap things up because I will be leaving for the Bahnhof in a few minutes.

I guess — I feel sad because I missed out on all these gems 10 years ago – but glad, nonetheless, to have been blessed with the opportunity to witness all these now.

So, Auf Wiedersehen!

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Goodnight Amsterdam!

Resting my sore feet on the banks of one of Amsterdam's many canals
Resting my sore feet on the banks of one of Amsterdam’s many canals

I know it’s way too early to say goodnight, especially since it’s only 7:00 pm here in Amsterdam, but I’m turning in early because I’m completely knackered! I’ve been getting up at 6:00 or 6:30 the past few days because I have to renew my locker rental (left my suitcase at the Amsterdam Train Station since I’ll be leaving from there soon anyway) before 7:30 am. I arrived a few minutes late today so pfft! Never mind. I’ll just pay an extra Euro 4.00 tomorrow. I have to get up early again tomorrow – the train for my next destination leaves at 8:00 am, and I don’t want to miss that (I don’t want to miss any of my rides, full stop).

So yeah – I’m in Amsterdam and my eyebrows went up several times in the last three days. First, I was amazed at the grandeur that is their train station. I was mildly peeved when I got in because the elevators were painfully slow and there was just a whole lot of people (having spent the last 8 years of my life in New Zealand, you kinda forget what a “big crowd” looks and feels like). Plus, I couldn’t find the locker area and bus stop F. However, when I turned my head, I was like … :O.

What other things caused me to raise my eyebrow or smirk while I was here … the buildings did. For some reason, the buildings all look so wonky. If these were not skewed to the side, they look like they are about to topple forward. Maybe it has something to do with Amsterdam’s many canals – who knows! All I know is that my inner OCD wanted to tilt the buildings so that they would stand properly.

The proliferation of cannabis also shocked me. They have cannabis lollies, cannabis energy drinks and were openly selling cannabis seeds! Tempted to try their happy brownies, but nah … I’m not that adventurous. I was, however, brave enough to walk up and down Amsterdam’s notorious red light district by my lonesome (but it was daytime, so it’s still “safe”). I even entered one of the many erotic shops that lined the street. I think it was one of the tamer ones, because they didn’t have any S&M stuff on display. I found out from the friendly salesman (no, he wasn’t gross looking – he was actually quite polite) that the government has shut down almost 2/3 of the “fun” places. It was really weird – he was discussing the pros and cons of each, toy – like he would explain the functions of a camera. Very technical and with absolutely no hint of malice whatsoever. I didn’t buy anything though. Sorry, but I’m not that “brave”. :-/

Anyway, it was a fun three days. I saw tulips, had gouda cheese, had fried potatoes with mayonnaise (just like the Dutch like them) and even went on a canal ride (at Giethoorn, not in Amsterdam). Here’s Amsterdam from my perspective:

 

 

 

Goodbye Britannia

Resting feet while travelling on London's Train System
Resting feet while travelling on London’s Train System

After my fairly exhausting week in Paris, I spent a rather laid-back 6 days in Britain. I flew in on Saturday morning and was welcomed by what can be called “typical British weather”. It was cold, windy and wet – reminded me a lot of Wellington actually. Wellington’s notorious for having wet, wild and windy weather – but when the sun is out – man, you really can’t beat Wellington when the weather gods smile favourably on the city. But … I digress.

Britain – just like Paris, it’s my first time EVER to set foot on this place and I loved every minute I spent both at Oxford and in London. In my brief stay I’ve come to the conclusion that Britain is – to me anyway – a wee bit more serious than France. Both countries had palaces, windows with flowers, bicycles, museums, trains, buses – but there’s this quiet dignity in all things Britain, whereas the French exuded an aura of playfulness. Not that either one is good or bad, okay? The two are just … different.

Here are some of the things I saw in Great Britain. Again, no stories yet because I’m still on the move. Stories (similar to the Harry Potter post) and more photos will be posted after the 15th of June, when I’m back in New Zealand. 🙂

Hogwarts and Harry Potter

Voldemort's Wand. :)
Voldemort’s Wand. 🙂

I’m still at Oxford and today’s a slow day for me/us. It’s been drizzling steadily since this morning (may have even started last night) and it’s just not “going out to see things” weather. We’re holed up indoors and later this evening, we might watch The Half Blood Prince, I think that’s the only Harry Potter film I wasn’t able to see. I’m looking forward to movie night tonight because I’m still on a Harry Potter high.

You see, yesterday, we went to the “Harry Potter World” at Leavesden. I found out about the Harry Potter studio through a friend of mine who visited the studio a few months back. I was totally chuffed to find out that there’s a HP World a few kms from where I’m staying at Oxford! So yeah, booked a ticket and went for a visit!

The tour lasts about 3 hours – longer if you choose to dawdle and read all the little labels and watch all the little videos (which I didn’t do) but it’s so interesting you won’t notice the time at all. Fan girl here just took lots of pictures! And sadly, I’m still obsessed with the Malfoys. 😦

Au Revoir Paris!

Resting My Sore Feet along the River Seine.
Resting My Sore Feet along the River Seine.

Tomorrow, I get on a little plane and leave the wonderful city of Paris. I’ve been here for the past 6 days and it has been an amazing experience! I’ve been preparing for this trip for over a year and it’s well worth the scrimping and saving and everything in between.

Paris is a wonderful city – it’s so rich and full of history, you can’t look anywhere and not see something from the past staring right back at you. It’s crowded with tourists (what do you expect), and contrary to what others think, the Parisians do not turn their noses up at you if you don’t speak the language. Nobody was rude to me on the 6 days that I was there. I’d order food in English and they’d happily still oblige – if I can’t get myself understood, someone will pop in to help. On my first day, I was looking at my map – just looking, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere yet, when this lady approaches and asks me where I want to go (in French) so … I just pointed to Quartier Latin (even though I wasn’t supposed to go there) and she told me how to get there (again, in French and a lot of arm movements). I just couldn’t say, “I’m all right, thanks!”.

So anyway, here are a few photos of my trip. These are not edited and straight from the camera, and I don’t intend to give a running commentary about all the locations I’ve been to. I will, eventually, post some stories, but that will be when I get back from my holiday. It’s a bit difficult to do that now since I’m practically almost always on the move. Not only are my feet sore, but my thighs, and legs and back as well. But … Paris is worth the pain and discomfort.

These are what I will remember most. 🙂

It’s been an unbelievable adventure. 🙂 Sad that it has to end, but happy that it happened.

Until we meet again Paris! 🙂